Who critiques the critics?


The makers of The Last Sin Eater seem to be a rather touchy lot. First, on Friday, I got this e-mail from writer/producer Brian Bird (that’s him above, on the right):

Thanks for your honest review, Mr. Chattaway. We did our best with this little film on limited resources. It would have been nice to have the luxury of a big Hollywood budget, but we didn’t, so we strived for excellence in the places where we could find it. We know it’s not a perfect film, but in test screenings, audience members have wept and we got standing ovations, so we’ll take comfort with those reviews if we can’t get the professionals to admire the film. And we’ll try not to be, as you say, so “pedestrian or trivial,” on our next one.

Brian Bird
Believe Pictures, LLC

Now, I haven’t a clue why Bird mentioned the budget, since I sure didn’t mention it in my review, and in fact I even avoided saying anything about, say, the cheap special effects, precisely because I wanted to be kind and to allow for limitations of that sort — but as you can see at Rotten Tomatoes, quite a few film critics have dissed the film on those points, so perhaps Bird was still smarting from those other reviews when he responded to mine.

At any rate, my chief criticisms were on the level of screenplay and direction, and you don’t exactly need a big budget to fix those kinds of problems; you either have the talent or you don’t. I could also have mentioned the music, which sometimes lays it on a bit thick when it tells the audience what to feel at various points in the film; whether it is the composer or the director who is at fault there, I hardly think budget constraints mean anything.

Then, today, my colleagues alerted me to a radio interview that Paul Edwards of the Center for the Study of God & Culture did last week with writer/director Michael Landon Jr (that’s him above, on the left); it occupies the first 15 minutes of this mp3 file.

About half the interview is spent talking about the movie and Landon’s testimony. Then, at about the 8½-minute mark, Edwards asks Landon if he reads reviews of his films. Landon replies:

There are some that are so obvious in their agenda, when they slam a film, and you know that there’s a personal vendetta against the work, because there’s some– You can criticize a film and it’s very subjective, but there’s some great, great things about this film, and if they can’t find any good in it, I know there’s an agenda.

There is no reference to me or my review in that quote, but I would like to hold on to the word “agenda” for a minute. Edwards then reads Landon this part of my review:

The very concept of “sin eating” is so unusual that the film cannot help but be at least a little interesting. However, the movie suffers from the same sense of inevitability that afflicts so many other Christian films; at times you suspect the filmmakers are not all that interested in the phenomenon of “sin eating” for its own sake, but regard it as just another set-up for an evangelistic punch line.

Asked if it was a set-up for a punchline, Landon replies:

Oh absolutely not. I mean, that’s ridiculous. And all you’d have to do– If Peter spent any time with anybody who has turned their life over to Christ, he would know that there is a freedom in that.

And then he responds to some other critics’ criticisms. But this is an odd reply, because he doesn’t seem to be replying to the excerpt that was read to him. What’s more, by skipping over the subject of “sin eating” itself as though it doesn’t interest him, and leaping immediately to the subject of people “turning their life over to Christ”, he more or less confirms my point.

Like I say, Landon goes on to reply to the criticisms made by some other critics, but then Edwards turns the interview back to CT Movies, and he is especially critical of us for naming Children of Men the #1 movie in our “2006 Critics’ Choice Awards” — which is kind of funny, actually, because as I mentioned here at the time, I cast no votes whatsoever for that film. In fact, at this point, I probably share Edwards’ criticisms of that film more than not.

But Landon takes this opportunity to go on to say:

There is definitely an interesting agenda over at Christianity Today. Because they’re just not hammering– you know, they’re not even just hammering my film, as you just explained to me. They’re going after, you know, FoxFaith as if, you know– as if they’re the– as if Christianity Today is the only source where you can find truth and meaning and purpose.

Now that is way over the top. CT Movies is, as far as I know, the only Christian website that regularly looks at the reviews posted on other Christian websites to see what sorts of discussions we Christians are having about current films. So the idea that we think of ourselves as “the only source” for anything is preposterous.

More significant is Landon’s charge that we have some sort of “agenda” against FoxFaith. And while I can’t speak for my colleagues, I think I know enough of them personally to say that we are more interested in evaluating films on a case-by-case basis than in smearing any film based on who happens to put it out.

I assume Landon is simply stating his personal opinion here and not speaking on behalf of FoxFaith, just as when I write my reviews I am speaking for myself and not for CT Movies, per se. But I would still like to clarify that I, for one, have no agenda against FoxFaith. (Or against Bird and Landon, for that matter.)

I do, however, hope that “contemporary Christian filmmakers” can avoid falling into the trap of insinuating that just because they make films with a Christian agenda, it necessarily follows that we are all now obliged to say nice things about their movies.

FEB 13 UPDATE: Paul Edwards interviews CT Movies editor Mark Moring in this mp3 file, beginning around the 46-minute mark.

FEB 16 UPDATE: In addition to his comments here and elsewhere, Paul Edwards devoted the first 20 minutes of yesterday’s show to CT Movies, and then went after us again before the first hour was up; check this mp3 file for all the gory details. Suffice to say he misrepresents us again, and if I had time and energy, I might reply to some of his points, but for now I’ll just point you to the replies posted earlier today by Mark Moring and Jeffrey Overstreet.

FEB 18 UPDATE: Paul Edwards takes a few more potshots. Jeffrey Overstreet responds. And I have nothing further to add.

About Peter T. Chattaway

Peter T. Chattaway was the regular film critic for BC Christian News from 1992 to 2011. In addition to his film column, which won multiple awards from the Evangelical Press Association, the Canadian Church Press and the Fellowship of Christian Newspapers, his news and opinion pieces have appeared in such publications as Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Bible Review and the Vancouver Sun. He also contributed essays to the books Re-Viewing The Passion: Mel Gibson’s Film and Its Critics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) and Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ Fifty Years on (Continuum, 2005).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05192245958769676651 P. Little

    Ugh, the amount of ignorance in Bird and Landon’s comments makes me kind of angry. I’m a very strong Christian, but I also enjoy film, and I do not believe in any case that a Christian movie, book, song, etc. has to be labelled “good” just because it’s Christian. That idea is absolutely ridiculous. In the same way that there are good songs and bad songs in every musical genre, and good movies and bad movies in every film genre, there are good Christian movies and bad Christian movies.

    Liking a movie just because of who made it, who was in it, or what its intentions were – despite the quality of the film – is a very unhealthy way to go about things, and it is dangerous to art and creativity as a whole.

  • http://www.christianitytodaymovies.com mark m

    It’s also worth noting that *nothing* in Peter’s review would indicate that “The Last Sin Eater” is a “bad” movie. He gave it two stars out of four, which to me says he deemed it “average.” CT Movies has given a lower star rating to a number of “Christian movies,” some of which really were quite “bad.” It’s also kind of ironic that Landon says CT has an “agenda” and a “vendetta.” Hmm, he didn’t say that when I interviewed him and presented him and his Love Comes Softly movies in a fairly positive light. Where was our “agenda” then? To me, Landon’s comments sound pretty reactionary. Instead of saying, “I disagree with Chattaway’s review” or “I don’t think he was being fair on such-and-such a point,” he goes and indicts ALL of CT, accusing us of an “agenda,” and even saying some not-so-flattering things about Peter. Yowza.

    I thought Peter’s review was right on target, BTW. I watched the film over the weekend with my family, and it wasn’t bad; there were parts that were pretty well done (the little girl is a fine actress, and captivating), and parts that definitely were not (and *always,* that overly-intrusive music!). Like Peter said in his review, the most fascinating thing about the film was the whole concept of the “sin eater,” a tradition I’d never heard of. That was interesting, and sparked me to want to know more about it — which is essentially what Peter said in his review, that he’d wished they’d explored the sociology and psychology of it a bit deeper.

    I don’t think it was *merely* a set-up for a “punchline” — the story itself is a nice (and natural) vehicle for talking about the One and Only sin eater. I’m cool with that. But just because it talks about the things of faith and presents the gospel doesn’t make it a great movie. I definitely agree that folks need to get past that kind of thinking.

    Personally, I might have given it 2.5 stars. (The radio guy who interviewed Landon said he might even give it FOUR stars. My goodness. No way.) I think it was better than his last Love Comes Softly film (which was SO sappy), and I think Landon has made a good move in tackling more interesting subject matter. It’s not a bad start, and could be an indication of better things to come. Perhaps his next film will be in that 2.5-to-3-star range.

    mark moring

    PS — Here’s my interview with landon 2 years ago:

    http://www.christianitytoday.com/movies/interviews/michaellandonjr.html

  • Trent

    These comments remind me of a certain letter, written by a certain musician for a certain Vancouver band in response to a certain review written by a certain Magnus, which was printed in Christian Info, oh, certainly a while back now, which smacks of “you can’t criticize our art, because our faith trumps it.”

    In the face of eternity, sure. But then, why make something that pretends to aspire to art?

    Then again, I wouldn’t say that these comments are ignorant. People who create often speak of their creation as their children. (People who procreate often say the same thing, but in their case, it is more than a metaphor.) Anyways. Parents can get a little defensive when they feel their baby is being attacked, and I suspect that they might just be stepping up to defend their child. In a few years, maybe, once the pains of childbirth are not so fresh, once the triumphs of creating an actual movie are not so close, they might look it at again through eyes that are not so full of love.

    I haven’t seen the movie, so I can’t say whether it is good, bad, or indifferent. But I have seen this sort of behaviour before. Heck, I know I get my back up when people start ripping apart things I write, and then I start to feel that their criticism of what I created was a criticism of its creator, ie me.

  • http://www.godandculture.com Paul Edwards

    Christian movie reviewers seem to be a rather touchy lot! Seems, Peter, you can mischaracterize Michael Landon, Jr.’s screen adaptation of a thoroughly evangelistic Christian novel as “just another setup for an evangelistic punchline” but when the screenwriter points out how off base you are, your bruised feelings about the criticism of your own work rise to the surface. Are movie critics immune from criticism from those they criticize?

    If you had actually taken the time to READ Francine Rivers’ novel on which Mr. Landon’s screenplay, The Last Sin Eater, is based you would know that what you characterize as “an evangelistic punchline” in reality is the gospel itself adeptly presented by Francine Rivers in her original work. If there is “a setup” in Sin Eater, it was placed there by Francine Rivers, NOT Michael Landon, Jr. So Mr. Landon accurately answered the question I asked him: absolutely not did he write what you condescendingly refer to as “an evangelistic punchline” into the screenplay. Francine Rivers wrote the gospel into her novel; Michael Landon, Jr. faithfully adapted it in his screenplay. And Christian movie reviewers continue to choose to advocate for profanity laced mainstream films and trash films in which the gospel is clearly presented.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07395937367596387523 Peter T Chattaway

    . . . your bruised feelings about the criticism of your own work rise to the surface.

    Bruised feelings? No, I am actually somewhat amused by all the attention that that one paragraph of mine has had.

    Are movie critics immune from criticism from those they criticize?

    Of course not! That is, in fact, why the title of this post asks a question, instead of making a statement.

    If you had actually taken the time to READ Francine Rivers’ novel . . .

    What makes you assume I haven’t?

    Either way, it hardly matters. As Roger Ebert likes to say, the important thing is not what a movie is about but how it is about it. And the important point here is not who came up with any given plot point or set of plot points; the important point here is whether this plot point is handled in a way that reflects any curiosity or interest in the phenomenon of “sin eating” for its own sake, or whether it is handled in a way that suggests the filmmakers are a wee bit eager to get to the altar call. And in that regard, the ultimate artistic responsibility lies with Landon, not Rivers.

    And Christian movie reviewers continue to choose to advocate for profanity laced mainstream films and trash films in which the gospel is clearly presented.

    Leaving aside the fact that profanity and the gospel are not mutually exclusive — for more on that, see my colleague Jeffrey Overstreet’s website — the fact that some Christian critics aren’t easily distracted by four-letter words or easily seduced by clear presentations of the gospel is, in my opinion, a good thing. As Katherine Paterson pointed out when I interviewed her, good propaganda has its place, but it isn’t the same thing as good storytelling.

  • http://www.godandculture.com Paul Edwards

    Profanity and the gospel are not mutually exclusive? Now there’s a show topic!

    I respect you, Peter, but respectfully disagree with the way you have characterized this movie. But this is a much broader issue than a review of one movie.

    Something is askew in the Christian movie review industry. Mark Moring justified your negative review of Sin Eater by pointing out that a majority of the reviews on rottentomatoes panned the movie, as well. Using that same logic, a large number of Christian readers of Christianity Today Movies seem to be panning the lack of biblical perspective on the reviews you guys are putting out. Are those opinions weightless – do they mean nothing because they disagree with your perspective? Are the Christian readers of your movie reviews just out of touch, or is there something you, and Jeffrey, and Mark could learn from the concerns expressed?

    You have an open invitation to come on my program any time to talk about the broader issues at work beneath the surface. Maybe you, and Mark, and Jeffrey all at once on the program for a full two hours to hash these things out?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07395937367596387523 Peter T Chattaway

    I respect you, Peter, but respectfully disagree with the way you have characterized this movie.

    I have no quarrel with that. The film does have its merits, and if those outweigh its flaws for you, then that’s perfectly fine.

    Using that same logic, a large number of Christian readers of Christianity Today Movies seem to be panning the lack of biblical perspective on the reviews you guys are putting out.

    A large number, sure. But are they the majority, or are they only a substantial minority? (Only Mark sees all the e-mail that comes in; all I see is what gets posted on the website, plus e-mails that are addressed to me specifically.) And are they panning the lack of any biblical perspective, or are they panning the lack of a perspective that happens to match their own take on the Bible?

    Are those opinions weightless – do they mean nothing because they disagree with your perspective?

    They don’t mean nothing, but they also don’t mean everything, and when a critic is offering his or her take on a film, he or she has to be as honest about his or her take on the film as possible. Dialogue is possible only when people honestly represent themselves.

    Are the Christian readers of your movie reviews just out of touch, or is there something you, and Jeffrey, and Mark could learn from the concerns expressed?

    I think it’s safe to say that all of us have learned some things over the years from the people who have responded to our work. But I also think it’s safe to say that at least some of the criticisms that we receive have a sort of “been there, done that” quality, for us. I just started reading Jeffrey’s book last night, and he talks about how he used to be reactionary, just like some of the people who complain about his reviews; and I know that I used to be somewhat reactionary, too. So some of us have grown up and “moved on” in our film appreciation, and the criticisms we get from some of our readers seem to want to drag us back to those times in our lives when we had not yet made the transition from milk to meat.

    Good films, and good film criticism, can be life-changing experiences, and in ways that go beyond merely getting someone to “ask Jesus into my heart”. One of the greatest fallacies that some Christians live by these days is that film and music and literature should be “safe” — and many of the criticisms we receive seem to come from readers who want their entertainment to be “safe” and inoffensive. Well, the gospel calls us to reach outside of ourselves, and sometimes it takes “unsafe” art to open our eyes to what God is trying to tell us.

    I could say more, but my baby boy is crying and needs to be put to bed.

    You have an open invitation to come on my program any time to talk about the broader issues at work beneath the surface. Maybe you, and Mark, and Jeffrey all at once on the program for a full two hours to hash these things out?

    That would be fantastic!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14715376140228118442 Jeffrey Overstreet

    I’m up for appearing on the program with Peter and Mark if they’re willing! That would be great.

    And for the record, I will never recommend a “trash movie.”

    For the record, I don’t think profanity is cool. But I don’t mind if movies portray characters who use it, because the more people I meet, the more profanity I hear in the world. Art reflects the world we live in. So it will reflect all manner of misbehavior… greed, violence, profanity, pride, self-righteousness, etc. If the art *condones* that behavior and *glorifies* it, well, that’s a problem. But if it *portrays* it for the sake of revealing character traits, or for the sake of showing us an honest, warts-and-all picture of the world, heck… bring it on.

    Jesus didn’t run out of the local pub just because somebody said something inappropriate. He listened, he attended to the roughness of the sinners around him, and he refused to compromise or adopt that misbehavior.

    Do I love movies that include profanity? Sometimes, just like I love certain Bible stories in which characters rape, murder, steal, and blaspheme. It’s all about context. It’s all about, as Peter said earlier, *how* the art employs these things.

  • Sheila West

    I have not seen the film, only read Peter’s review and then heard the radio broadcast. And I sympathize with Mr. Edwards only up to a point. His position seems to be that all aspects of one’s life as a Christian must in some manner service the Great Commission. That’s a sincere and noble stance to take. And many Christians walk out such a life with honor, bearing much fruit (they are “effective”).

    However, as a Christian who was not saved until adulthood, I want to point out the built-in guardedness that most non-Christian Americans hold toward anything that even remotely smacks of an evangelization tool. I again repeat: I have NOT seen the film. But the poster alone is schmaltzy enough to have kept me away were I still an unsaved person. And when the unsaved are steering clear of your meant-to-get-the-Word-out film, how then have you served Christ’s command? If the only people who hear your proclamation of Calvary’s miracle are already saved, what have you accomplished? And since films start at a cost of two million dollars for the newbie shoestring budgets, is that a wise investiture of monies supposedly meant to reach to the lost? The vast majority of Christian cinema is so well intended, so sincere, and very affirming to those already saved. But utterly ineffective when it comes to reaching to lost.

    Much (if not all) of Christian cinema is dismissed wholesale by unsaved film aficionados because it’s deemed unsophisticated, predictable, and irrelevant. Thinly veiled propaganda. Unintentional pastiche. Tripe and drivel. We have a baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad reputation out there amongst the very people we are trying to reach. While it’s completely unfair that our films are avoided by them out of sheer habit, “fairness” isn’t an obligation at their end of it, but “effectiveness” most certainly is at ours. We are not being effective when we serve up movie posters full of sun-pierced clouds –imagery so utterly cliché that it has been satirized for decades in film, television, print, and now on the internet. We are not being effective when music lovers cringe over film scores full of overwrought violins and forlorn flute solos (another cliché with decades of mileage on it). If we wish to make films that have impact, we need to be more subtle and less (here’s a film term, one used often in many freshman film school courses) on-the-nose. Less is more. If we can show them that we know how to exercise restraint and subtlety, they will be very impressed indeed. They might start even buying tickets.

    My two favorite examples of films that are fantastic evangelizing tools are “The Good Son” with Macaulay Culkin and Elijah Wood; and “Autumn in New York” with Richard Gere and Winona Ryder. Neither film is even remotely Christian. But both have provocative themes which clearly and unmistakably point toward our needing to take note of man’s sinful nature, especially in ourselves. One of my film professors told the class that the highest goal of any filmmaker is “to raise the dialectic”: to get people thinking (and then talking!) TGS and AiNY are both superb works that can get an unsaved person thinking –truly thinking– about evil, including his own. And then get them talking–hopefully with one of “us,” if we happen to be in the room with them when the ending credits roll.

    My favorite line in TGS is when the eleven-year-old old Elijah Wood pleads to the oh-so-soft-spoken and subtly condescending child psychologist (read: secular humanist) during his compulsory therapy session with her, trying to convince her that eleven-year-old Macaulay Culkin is the one committing these terrible crimes and not him. He says: “But you don’t understand! He’s EVIL!” To which she sympathetically coos: “But I don’t believe in evil.” And he replies to her with a hushed menacing tone: “You should.” Another great scene from TGS is when Macaulay Culkin is speaking to his father (who has no clue his dear little boy is a sociopathic monster) and the lad smoothly pulls the wool over his father’s eyes, going on and on about how he is “scientifically fascinated” with various aspects of life (and death). And when his dad expresses delight over his son’s inclinations toward science, it is then that we realize the boy has been overly-encouraged by his naïve parents to pursue scientific studies, while moral and ethical instruction have been grossly lacking. If these two scenes aren’t valid talking-points capable of raising a profound conversation on the nature of evil, then I am at a loss as to what would qualify instead.

    Some Christians insist that unless a work (music or film or literature, etc) BLATANTLY names Jesus and honors him as Lord and Savior (or at the very least names God) then it isn’t an acceptable piece to have been created by a Christian, nor is it capable/worthy of being used in the furtherance of the Kingdom. If that maxim were strictly followed, then we’d have to expunge the Book of Esther from the Bible (or merely pretend it isn’t even there).

  • Sheila West

    I probably shouldn’t have written “utterly ineffective when it comes to reaching the lost.” Let me correct that by instead saying “largely ineffective.”

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11889644509382119024 Sheila West

    Mr. Edwards wrote to Mr. Chattaway: [i]“If you had actually taken the time to READ Francine Rivers’ novel on which Mr. Landon’s screenplay, The Last Sin Eater, is based you would know that what you characterize as “an evangelistic punchline” in reality is the gospel itself adeptly presented by Francine Rivers in her original work. If there is “a setup” in Sin Eater, it was placed there by Francine Rivers, NOT Michael Landon, Jr. So Mr. Landon accurately answered the question I asked him: absolutely not did he write what you condescendingly refer to as “an evangelistic punchline” into the screenplay. Francine Rivers wrote the gospel into her novel; Michael Landon, Jr. faithfully adapted it in his screenplay.”[/i]

    My response: The book has no bearing on whether or not this film is any good. Nor does the book have any bearing on whether or not the film is guilty of the oft-committed offense of setting us up for the dreaded “evangelical punchline.” The only thing the book has any bearing on is whether or not Mr. Landon was faithful in adapting it. Beyond that, the film must stand on its own merits as a work of cinema.

  • Thom

    “If you had actually taken the time to READ Francine Rivers’ novel on which Mr. Landon’s screenplay, The Last Sin Eater, is based you would know that what you characterize as “an evangelistic punchline” in reality is the gospel itself adeptly presented by Francine Rivers in her original work.”

    That’s totally irrelevant to a movie review. You should not have to have read the book to make sound judgement on the film. Films and books are not the same medium.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11889644509382119024 Sheila West

    Mr. Edwards wrote: “And Christian movie reviewers continue to choose to advocate for profanity laced mainstream films and trash films in which the gospel is clearly presented.”

    I think the criteria for guidelines of acceptable Christian movie reviewing (or, acceptable movie reviewing guidelines for a Christian reviewer) needs to be visited and explored here, and then (hopefully) agreed upon by both sides.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11889644509382119024 Sheila West

    Peter,

    One of the things I recall from the radio chat between Mr. Edwards and Mr. Landon was their mutual complaint about reviewers who failed to find something good in the film –or at least failed to ADMIT finding something good in it. And looking at the comments from Mr. Bird’s e-mail, he seems to be pleading for you to rethink a more merciful stance on his film in light of his budget constraints.

    I think these bits of evidence are very telling as far as what might be the true heart of the conflict here. It’s not an artistic disagreement, nor even a theological disagreement, it’s a cultural one.

    Within many evangelical circles, one pastoral approach/philosophy to leading, teaching, managing, and interacting with people is to try and maintain a Christ-like outlook which always strives to see only the best in people. Or: to see people as Christ sees them, not as the world sees them. This philosophy encourages Christian leaders to consciously overlook people’s flaws and “akk-sennnnnnn-chew-ate the positive.” To TRY (as hard as it might be at times) to find SOMETHING legitimately good to say, and to phrase all discussions of any deficiencies with a Christ-like gentleness (or, to speak the truth in love). Failure to keep a positive outlook and emulate the encouraging nature of Barnabus is seen as an outright failure in the role and purpose of a pastor/leader whose job is to nurture and uphold people, not tear them down.

    It would be very easy to dismissively pigeonhole the reactions of Mr. Landon, Mr. Bird, and Mr. Edwards as a unified front of an almost party-like solidarity which belligerently demands blind loyalty to the party line. The party in question here is the group called “Christians”. I sense that their reaction suggests that while they certainly expect a lack of mercy from critics who are non-believers, they do not expect it from those who claim to be their brothers. I don’t think they mind that you found flaws, nor are they unwilling to concede, digest, and learn from your observations. I think their TRUE grievance is that you did not speak the truth in love according to the Barnabus model. You failed to paint your negative review in the obligatory brushstrokes of positive encouragement. You didn’t couch it in kindness or uphold the sincerity of their efforts. Instead (in their perceptions) tore them down without mercy.

    In short: you wrote your review in the language of a secular film reviewer, not in Christianese.

    If I am right about this, then it represents a severe but easy to miss cultural schism between your understanding of your job, and their expectations of your position (or at least Christianity Today‘s position) as an important and influential voice impacting the movie-going decisions of millions of Christians throughout America (and even the world). With much power comes much responsibility, and I suspect they feel you were remiss in your responsibilities not as a critic but as a Christian –one whose very words (or tongue) can have a detrimental impact on this film. Again, I want to stress: they are NOT (in my opinion) looking for blind adherence to the ridiculous notion that all Christian cinema must be grandly heralded without question. They are only looking for the Barnabus touch in your treatment of the film. “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.”

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03147734669353799982 Martin

    Sheila, your comments about the cultural divide are more or less accurate. But there are already several “Christianese” film-review Web sites. I don’t see why all Christians writing film reviews should be expected to take the exact same approach.

    Peter compliments several aspects of the film, and it’s clear to me that the criticims he offers are directed at the WORK, not the workers. It is not healthy for Christians to expect nothing but warm fuzzies from each other. Imagine the Galatians and Corinthians complaining to Paul about the criticisms in his letters. And, note that even Barnabas and Paul had a disagreement and went their separate ways (Acts 15:39)! So to claim Barnabas as some kind of model for relentless positiveness no-matter-what is to deny the testimony of Scripture.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11889644509382119024 Sheila West

    martin,

    I agree that warm fuzzies shouldn’t be expected from Peter. Thus my statement to Peter that this conflict is possibly symptomatic of “a severe but easy to miss cultural schism between your understanding of your job, and their expectations of your position.”

    It seems to be a stance of disapproval that Mr. Landon, and Mr. Edwards, and Mr. Bird are operating from. One side of the dispute is standing upon the “higher ground” of artistic excellence, and the other on the “higher ground” of Christian decorum. I believe they are speaking past each other and don’t even know it. So I just wanted to point all of that out to them in the hopes that both sides would see the communication breakdown and try to work around it (before going live over the airwaves).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08741378159534413277 Magnus

    If Christians are going to dabble in artistic mediums they need to accept that they are going to be judged on the artistic merits of their works.
    Good art makes an impact. Care about the medium as much as the message. Compromising the art for the sake of the message always seems, to me, denigrating to the message. People in the Faith need to honour God with good art, and stop treating the creative gift as something of value only for utilitarian purposes.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08741378159534413277 Magnus

    Asked if it was a set-up for a punchline, Landon replies:
    Oh absolutely not. I mean, that’s ridiculous. And all you’d have to do– If Peter spent any time with anybody who has turned their life over to Christ, he would know that there is a freedom in that.

    He has a point Peter. Certainly no one in your life – from your wife and family, friends, colleagues and the people at your church, posters on this blog – could fit into that category.

  • http://www.godandculture.com Paul Edwards

    Paul Edwards wrote…

    If you had actually taken the time to READ Francine Rivers’ novel . . .

    Peter Chattaway responded…

    What makes you assume I haven’t?

    Peter Chattaway on the Arts and Faith Film Forum February 9…

    And while I only skimmed the latter portions of the book, I have to say it seems to me that the movie is, if anything, LESS preachy than the book.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07395937367596387523 Peter T Chattaway

    Answer the question: What made you “assume” that I had not read the book?

    I did, in fact, read part of it; and because I had a deadline to meet, I skimmed the part that I did not have time to read before writing my review. It seemed obvious to me from the first part of the book that the film had followed it pretty closely, and the bits that I saw when I skimmed the second part of the book also seemed to match the film pretty closely — apart from the fact that the film seemed to trim down some of the sermonizing, a point which I believe you made to Landon himself when he appeared on your show.

    If Landon and Bird can excuse their pedestrian filmmaking on the grounds that they didn’t have a lot of money, then I can certainly excuse the fact that I didn’t do a mountain of research prior to writing my review by pointing to all sorts of factors: the fact that the review only pays so much, the fact that much of my time is consumed by the one-year-old twins that I have to look after while my wife is at her full-time job, the fact that this particular movie simply isn’t that important, the fact that I have other outlets to write and edit for as well, and on and on and on.

    But in the end, none of that matters. What matters here is that I made a comment about the way Landon treated his subject matter — and the fact that he inherited his subject matter from a book doesn’t make a whit of difference to the fact that he treated it one way and not another.

  • http://www.godandculture.com Paul Edwards

    Answer the question: What made you “assume” that I had not read the book?

    It appears I am not assuming you didn’t read the book, Peter. By your own admission you didn’t read the book.

    I am very sorry for how personal this has all become, Peter. Having read the complete posts on this subject both here and at Arts & Faith and at LookingCloser I genuinely see that the tenor of my posts were less than respectful and I apologize to you and Jeffrey and Mark for their tone.

    The open minded Christians who blog here, and at LookingCloser and at Arts and Faith have called me a “jerk,” accused me of “having a bug up my butt,” and “going after” you on air (when initially all I did was quote your review), “goading” Michael Landon “into dissing CT Movies,” “posting nasty messages,” “slamming” you, and even the conspiracy theorists get in on the act by suggesting that this is some sort of “Gibson-esque stirring of the pot” to increase ticket sales! I’m just a talk radio host who happens to be passionate about the truth – just as passionate for truth as you – yet you characterize my passion as “having a bug up his butt” and of course your passion is just tempered reasoning.

    Jeffrey has posted that I was “agreeable” with Mark Moring on-air and then off-air in posts I “slammed” CT. Mark Moring knows that when he and I agreed to the interview I promised him that I would not challenege his position on-air, that I would give him plenty of space to make the case for CT Movies, which I did. “Agreeable” is not how I would describe my attitude during that interview; congenial in the midst of disagreement would be more like it. Mark did not change my mind on-air; nor did I run to your blog and Jeffrey’s blog to “rant” or to “vent” as a result of the interview. My posts here and at Jeffrey’s blog were strictly in response to what each of you were saying in response to my interview with Landon. They just happened to come AFTER the interview with Mark, giving Jeffrey the opportunity to claim that I was “agreeable” with Mark on-air (as if the debate had been settled and the wimpy talk host walked away dejected with his tail tucked between his legs) and then exploded with a differing opinion in my posts after the interview with Mark. Nothing could be further from the truth, and Mark knows it. Jeffrey also knows it but won’t comment in his posts about THAT part of my last email to him.

    In Michael’s defense, might I just say that I do not believe he was ever calling into question your relationship with Jesus Christ. I think he honestly misspoke and meant to say that “anyone who has spent any time among Christians…” and did not mean to imply that you hadn’t, but but rather because you HAD, he was shocked at your review.

    I certainly do not question your relationship with Jesus Christ. I consider you a brother in the Lord and as I stated at the beginning, these posts have gotten off the issue and become way too personal, so please forgive me for the part I played in that derailment.

    I do not believe that CT has an anti-evangelical agenda, though I am still very much concerned about the underlying philosophy that informs CTs product. Forgive me for characterizing what you do as “anti-evangelical.” It would be better characterized as an amalgam of postmodern philosophy combined with some elements of Christian thought, but it is most certainly NOT anti-evangelical.

    We differ theologically and philosophically and I will use the forum God has given me to explore those differences in the future just as you use the forum God has given you to advocate for your position.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07395937367596387523 Peter T Chattaway

    It appears I am not assuming you didn’t read the book, Peter. By your own admission you didn’t read the book.

    Get a grip, Paul. Even if what you assume is true, you are still assuming it. And it’s debatable whether what you assumed in this case is true in the first place.

    Did I “read the book”? Actually, yes, I did, to a point. Did I read all of the book? No. But the key point here is that you assumed I was unfamiliar with the book when, in fact, I wasn’t.

    And everything you have claimed about the book, here and on your radio show, has only confirmed my impression of the book. So why are you going on and on about this extremely minor point?

    I’m just a talk radio host who happens to be passionate about the truth – just as passionate for truth as you – yet you characterize my passion as “having a bug up his butt” and of course your passion is just tempered reasoning.

    For a man who gripes about being quoted out of context, you sure do a fair bit of it yourself. What I actually wrote at Arts & Faith was:

    Edwards has a real bug up his butt about “accuracy” in film adaptations of novels, but he can’t seem to “accurately” represent the positions of the people that he’s arguing against. I think the latter kind of accuracy is at least as important as the former, and probably more so.

    There is a huge, huge difference between “truth” and “accuracy in film adaptations of novels”. To use C.S. Lewis’s old liar-lord-lunatic approach, either you know this and you are deliberately twisting my words, or you don’t know this because you’ve got an incredibly poor grip on reality. Whether you are a “liar” or a “lunatic” I leave to the readers to decide.

    In Michael’s defense, might I just say that I do not believe he was ever calling into question your relationship with Jesus Christ. I think he honestly misspoke and meant to say that “anyone who has spent any time among Christians…” and did not mean to imply that you hadn’t, but but rather because you HAD, he was shocked at your review.

    That sounds entirely plausible to me, and you will note that I have not responded to that part of Landon’s quote, even though some of the other people who have commented on this debate (here and elsewhere) have zeroed in on that line.

    I do not believe that CT has an anti-evangelical agenda, though I am still very much concerned about the underlying philosophy that informs CTs product.

    The thing you have to realize is that there are quite a few of us who write film reviews for CT Movies, and we don’t always agree on what the best interpretation of any particular film might be. Many of my colleagues loved Children of Men, for example, but by the time we got around to voting for the top ten list, I had grown somewhat sour on the film and decided not to cast any votes for it whatsoever. I grew to like The Nativity Story after repeated viewings, but I can point to colleagues of mine at CT Movies who either liked it a lot more than I did, or who pretty much hated it outright. Whatever. Even within a Christian philosophy, there is still plenty of “room to roam”, and to suggest that there should be critical consistency across the board at CT Movies is ridiculous. It would be like demanding an episode of Siskel & Ebert where every film got either two thumbs up or two thumbs down. The Christian dialogue with regard to film is much bigger and much more complex than that — which is one of the reasons why CT’s website has been running the weekly “Film Forum” since long, long before CT Movies itself came into existence.

    Forgive me for characterizing what you do as “anti-evangelical.” It would be better characterized as an amalgam of postmodern philosophy combined with some elements of Christian thought . . .

    I would be surprised if either of us knew what that description means.

  • http://www.godandculture.com Paul Edwards

    Jeffery Overstreet just posted at Arts and Faith that I extended an offical invitation to him to appear on my program, which he declined today. If he were honest he would tell you that I told him in an email last night, that I had just sent his publicist several dates for a possible interview which I WAS RESCENDING. His publicist got to him before I got to her – and he knows this, he’s just not being honest.

    It’s this kind of thing that has made it impossible to have an honest debate.

  • http://www.godandculture.com Paul Edwards

    I apologize and you continue to pile on…you win.

  • http://www.godandculture.com Paul Edwards

    Sheila West (pen name) has had the most cogent responses in this debate both here and at Arts and Faith: fair to both sides and able to see clearly both sides and able to articulate the views of both sides – without calling me either a “liar” or a “lunatic” or both. Ad Hominem attacks are the final resort of your opponent when he can’t answer your facts.

    So to end this thing once and for all (for me, at least) I’m bowing out with a nod toward West’s posts as a cogent statement of my own understanding of what this debate has been about.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07395937367596387523 Peter T Chattaway

    . . . without calling me either a “liar” or a “lunatic” or both. Ad Hominem attacks are the final resort of your opponent when he can’t answer your facts.

    There you go, quoting people out of context again. And you complain about people ignoring facts when you, yourself, refuse to face the facts that have been presented to you here! Neither of these approaches is particularly wise, if you want to be taken seriously.

    Oh, and BTW, according to Wikipedia, an “ad hominem . . . consists of replying to an argument by attacking or appealing to the person making the argument, rather than by addressing the substance of the argument.” As you can see, I did respond to the substance of your argument by exposing its faulty premise. Deal with it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14715376140228118442 Jeffrey Overstreet

    >> Jeffery Overstreet just posted at Arts and Faith that I extended an offical invitation to him to appear on my program, which he declined today. If he were honest he would tell you that I told him in an email last night, that I had just sent his publicist several dates for a possible interview which I WAS RESCENDING. His publicist got to him before I got to her – and he knows this, he’s just not being honest. <<

    I received the official invitation to be on your program this afternoon. I assumed that you had changed your mind and were offering it again. Well, now I see that you didn’t change your mind.

    So, you see… it was a simple misunderstanding. Once again, you accuse me of something… being a liar… and you’re wrong.

    I have written my closing statement on this whole subject at my blog today. It clearly explains what our evangelical mission is at CTMovies, and defends the choice of “Children of Men.”

    Over and out.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11889644509382119024 Sheila West

    Mr. Edwards said: Sheila West (pen name) has had the most cogent responses in this debate both here and at Arts and Faith: fair to both sides and able to see clearly both sides and able to articulate the views of both sides – without calling me either a “liar” or a “lunatic” or both. Ad Hominem attacks are the final resort of your opponent when he can’t answer your facts.

    So to end this thing once and for all (for me, at least) I’m bowing out with a nod toward West’s posts as a cogent statement of my own understanding of what this debate has been about.”

    My response: I was trying very hard to see your side, Mr. Edwards. But this is all just too far gone, and is now incessantly popping up in multiple spots like mechanical moles at an arcade game on no less than three blogs, two web sites, and a radio progam.

    I will now, for the fourth time, suggest to you, Peter, Mark, and Jeffrey: stop posting about ANY of this and get a Christian mediator. Do it NOW before Mark’s superiors call in their lawyers.

  • Anonymous

    “Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” (1 Cor. 3:18-19a).

    As adults we can learn a lot from how Jesus viewed children:

    “At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’”(Matthew 18:1-5).


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